Mili Mitra: Memory ghosts

Guest Columnist
Friday, May 25, 2018
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2018

The summer before my first year at Brown, whilst deep in the throes of high school nostalgia, I stumbled across a Huffington Post blog titled, “Letting Go of Your Memory Ghost.” It began: “Do you know what a memory ghost is? It’s not an actual ghost of course. It’s the pizzeria that takes you back to your first kiss. It’s the song that brings back those long summer nights. It’s the movie you can’t see without missing your best friend. It’s the book you used as an escape during a rough time. A memory ghost is a memory that is so strong, it’s left an invisible mark so it can never be forgotten.”

The paragraph stayed in my mind for days thereafter. Perhaps it was because certain memories were at the forefront of my mind: I was clinging to my childhood for dear life, willing the days to slow down so I could enjoy my time at home in Singapore for as long as I could.

I began to collect my own memory ghosts that summer before college. The sound of Indian folk songs and the flutter of bird wings on weekend mornings with my parents. The smell of peanut butter and waffles, my snacks at the end of a long school day. Before I knew it, I had a hefty list of ghosts to carry around with me.

This winter, I came across the note containing my memory ghosts on my old phone. Reading it, I felt like a 17-year old on the cusp of moving halfway across the world all over again. I couldn’t help but ask myself: What are my memory ghosts from Brown? What moments, experiences and fragments of time will jolt me back to Brown long after I pack my bags and leave College Hill?

It starts with the image of colorful Post-Its peeping out of the pages of crumbling old paperback books. I’ve carried the small, arrow-shaped Post-Its in my pencil case every day for the past four years, pasting them onto everything from comics to textbooks. They line all the books that changed my life over the past four years — “The New Jim Crow,” “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Marriage Plot” (could I be any more of a Brown student?) — and cover my desk, floor and bag like pointed confetti. They will always remind me of all that I have learned and all that I have yet to understand.

There’s the smell of breakfast sandwiches and coffee in the morning (let’s be honest, we’ve all subsisted on bagels and coffee at some point or the other). Wherever I go after graduation, I am convinced these scents will always bring me back to the long lines at Blue State and Bagel Gourmet Ole.

And then there are the songs that played in the background all through my time at Brown. The Disney songs that my friends and I used to sing at night in J. Walter Wilson — and once, embarrassingly, in the Brown Evening Shuttle — to drown out the sorrows and stresses of freshman year. The Hamilton songs that were the soundtrack of my sophomore year (“Take a Break” and “[I Will Never Be] Satisfied” were two song titles that particularly resonated). The awkward mix of pop-rock and country that flooded my playlists in junior year, and the sappy ballads that mirrored my mood swings this past year. The songs I listened to at Brown are like time capsules to specific moments and emotions.

There are so many other ghosts: the smell of morning dew on grass and Blue Room muffins; the “CAUTION: BUS IS TURNING” announcement that wakes me up each morning; the taste of overly sweet bubble tea. As I started to count them up, I realized that this list dwarfed my old list from high school. In just four years, Brown seems to have become even more embedded in my psyche than Singapore, my home of 18 years. And in a way, that makes sense: College is a transformative period in every student’s life. We grew up at Brown, discovered who we are, and withstood some of the greatest challenges of our lives so far. My memories of college are littered with moments of strong emotion — both elation and despair. The ghosts that arise from these memories are all the more vivid and tangible.

I don’t know where life will take me in the future, but I am absolutely sure that my memory ghosts from Brown will always come with me. For the rest of my life, I will be transported back to campus when I smell fresh muffins as I walk down the street, or hear the tunes of Hamilton on my phone. Maybe one day I will return to Providence and relive all these memories again. But until then, I am proud to treasure these moments and remain Ever True.

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